CrossFit Workout

After my second personal training session tonight, I went home feeling I hadn’t been challenged enough. Since then I’ve been a bad mood, feeling overwhelmed by life and neurotically unable to stop talking about it. Maybe I’m more tired than I realized. Maybe this is a new kind of tiredness and I’m not completely in touch with it yet, as I am when I’m tired from the boxing class. That seemed to be the case on Tuesday when I tried jumping rope at the end and found out how tired I was.
Tonight Dave worked with me almost exclusively on front squats, adding weight between sets a little at a time until I was lifting around 60 kg if I remember right. First he had me warm up with overhead squats with an unweighted bar, giving me the chance to learn how that lift works and use it as a pre-workout stretch. I was surprised when I couldn’t squat as low in the overhead squat as I can empty-handed. This is because of inadequate shoulder and back flexibility, which I’d known nothing about. Interesting! Aside from that, it was challenging to keep my arms rigid and to keep the bar way up behind my head without sagging forward. The trick, according to Dave, is to lock the arms and pull outward on the bar in both directions, as if trying to separate it in the middle. This pull makes the bar come right back up into balance but it’s hard to maintain.
So on to the front squats. I was nervous because I tried this lift with Nick last week and never got comfortable with it, and that had been with very little weight. Dave assured me that this lift is uncomfortable for a while and that’s normal, so I tried not to be distracted by my nervousness. He told me specifically to focus on nothing but keeping my weight back on my heels and driving up under the weight. He also had me squat and then drop the weights, so that I won’t be afraid to do so if I get stuck sometime.
As the weight increased I never doubted my ability to control my descent into the squat, but I was surprised each time by how hard it was to drive it back up. As the weight got heavier, Dave had me do fewer reps. He stopped to think a couple of times, deciding whether I should do two or three reps, and suddenly it all seemed kind of silly. Part of me wanted to say, just give me something really hard to do and tell me to do it for three minutes. Don’t split hairs.
When I left, I missed the wiped-out feeling I have after the boxing workout. It comes from the combination of intense cardio with the resistance, impact, and endurance challenges of moving and punching the bags. Is this really the workout I want to do twice a week and only go to boxing once a week? I sure don’t want to stand around and talk. But I’m pretty sure these personal training sessions are not representative of the CrossFit workouts I’ll do once I learn these building-block skills. I know I’ll find it gratifying to learn them in any case. But honestly, I’m worried about gaining weight in the next couple of weeks while I’m not yet up to speed at CrossFit and am not going to boxing as often as I used to. I hope I can moderate my eating to compensate.
Although I enjoyed today’s session, I really didn’t feel I worked hard enough or had enough variety. I’m going to try to keep in mind that it will take time to get up to speed, and once I do, I will be able to challenge myself as hard as I want. I’m leaning toward signing up for the classes, after the four personal sessions, and giving myself six months to see whether I get results that will make me want to continue. I should start thinking about what specific results I want to get.

CrossFit Workout

I realized later on that in my last entry I used the wrong phrase. It’s not a “forward squat,” it’s a front squat.
Tonight I had my first personal training session of four I’ll take before starting the CrossFit classes. I met Dave at 5:00. He started by showing me a kettlebell swing. The technique is based on a wide-stance squat where the pelvis sinks between the legs and thrusts forward into the standing position, with a little jump from the momentum, as the arms travel up to head level with the kettlebell. Video of the exercise is listed on the right side of this page. Some people think kettlebells are just a fad, but I liked the movement of this exercise and the natural grip on the handle of the bell. See kettlebells here, on one of the goofiest websites you’ll see.
Next Dave produced a pair of parallettes (made of PVC just like in these pictures) and asked me if I’m good at push-ups. “I dunno—what’s good?” I asked. I told him that on a strong day I’ve done 16 without stopping, so he had me try eight on the parallettes. These are easier on the wrists than pressing the palms on the floor and when you get really good at push-ups, you can dip your chest lower than your hands thanks to the extra height. Dave said my push-ups were pretty good but I was sagging just a tiny bit.
So my routine was to do three sets of 10 kettlebell swings and 8 push-ups. The kettlebell swing got a little more difficult and the push-ups got so hard that on my third set, I collapsed onto my knees at halfway up on number 7. I could not push one more millimeter. Dave then told me some things about push-ups that I never knew. He explained in detail how to tense the grip, the abdominals, the butt, the thighs, and the knees as hard as possible in order to do those last one or two push-ups. The whole body becomes like a stiff board instead of a collapsing dead weight and although it’s still really difficult, it allows one or two more reps to be done. In my enthusiasm to test out this idea, I did two more push-ups while I was still really fatigued. It was true. My arms still felt dead, but the rest of my body was cooperating a bit more instead of dragging itself down onto the mat.
Next, Dave asked me what’s the hardest abs exercise I’ve done. I was kind of stumped. At boxing we do lots of different ones in a row, so it’s the quantity and variety that make them so difficult. I had no doubt that Dave had a challenging exercise up his sleeve.
In a corner of the gym were two pieces of apparatus, one for back-ups and one for a combination back-up and hamstring curl. Dave showed me how to do sit-ups on the combination apparatus, extending as far back as possible with the stomach flexed while keeping the lower back pressed as if down onto a floor (though you’re in mid-air) instead of arching. I’m familiar with the need to keep the back from arching and we practice that at boxing in all of the crunches we do. He had me do several of those while he explained it and checked my back position, then had me do five more.
I got off the apparatus and he showed me the back-up–hamstring curl combo. I tried it too, thinking I might as well learn it now since he just demo’ed it. It wasn’t hard to do two or three of them but I know that doing a few short sets of those would make me sore for sure. Hamstring exercises involving body weight, as opposed to machine weights, are surprisingly strenuous considering those are some of the big muscles that support us all day long.
The final drill was on the rings (last on the list on this page, Knees to Elbows). First Dave had me show him whether or not I could do a hanging leg-lift. I hung there, hoping my rear end wouldn’t fly out backwards because of the instability, and tried to lift my straight legs out at a right angle to my hanging body. I couldn’t quite get them up much past 45 degrees, I think, though it looked higher from my wishful perspective. I did two of these and then he showed me what he really wanted me to do, which was the knees-to-elbows drill. In that one, you can use a bit of momentum to swing the feet up over your head. The challenge is in lifting the legs that high, in the intense curl of the upper body, and in maintaining the grip while doing these things. I had to do three sets of five, and it was hard.
We were finished. I was surprised to see almost an hour had passed, and I thought I didn’t feel tired enough. I jumped rope for a few minutes as Dave started a training session with someone else, and almost immediately the fatigue hit me. My arms didn’t want to swing the rope and my legs didn’t want to jump at any respectable speed or rhythm. I’m so used to the quick movement and impact of the boxing workout that it seems I need to jump rope in order to gauge my tiredness—as if, if I haven’t been bouncing around and punching, I can’t possibly be tired. Strange!
I enjoyed this workout and I’m going to be scared when I show up Thursday, because Dave said he’s going to have me work harder next time.
It was interesting to me that he placed the same emphasis on the hamstrings and on the lats (depending on the drill) as Cappy does at boxing. Tom and I are always asking each other, “How the heck am I supposed to use my lats to throw a punch?” Well, Dave corroborated Cappy, saying the lats should be doing the push-up just as they should be behind the punches in boxing. And the hamstrings provide the spring in the kettlebell swing. (Oh my. I’m a poet and don’t know it.)
Like last time, when I left the gym and drove home, I was in such a good mood that I felt like laughing. I can’t say why. But it’s great to try this new workout and learn once again that I love the physical potential of the body for its own sake. I don’t have an urge to ski or snowboard, rock-climb, or spar at boxing. Pushing myself physically in a gym, detached from everyday activities, feels like pure gratification.
Driving home I saw a guy riding a mountain bike in a perfect wheelie for something like a quarter of a mile alongside the busy street. I was smiling without realizing it, relishing the fact that someone can do that and wants to, even while part of my brain was saying, “What a show-off. He’s going to fall into traffic and it will serve him right.” Terrible! Is this some kind of social conditioning, where physical prowess is to be belittled? (Or am I just a jerk?) It seems like among most people I know—not those at the boxing gym, though—intellectual aspects of life are appreciated and physical strength and skill are not. Writers write about art, politics, business, and family life. It’s been harder for me to find good writing or have a good conversation about the physical human body and its capacity for strength and skill.

Follow-Up: First CrossFit Session

After last night’s workout I was wondering whether I’d be very sore today. I’m not. In the night, whenever I rolled over, I noticed I was stiff and fatigued, and that’s just how I feel today. It feels really good to stretch. I’m less stiff than I was last night by bedtime, and whenever I lift anything or even do something easy like washing dishes, my muscles feel tired. But that’s good. One part that is a little sore is the top fronts of my shoulders where the bar rested during the front squats. I still wonder if I’m going to be sorer tomorrow. Sometimes it really hits only on the second day.
One update to yesterday’s entry: Tom pointed out that for the deadlift, I was lifting almost my body weight even with only 30 kg on the bar, because the bar itself weighs 45 pounds. The total weight was about 18 pounds under my body weight. I had forgotten about the weight of the bar after the fact. I was extremely aware of the weight of the bar when I was lifting it alone for 20 reps of the push-press.
I’m off work today because of a couple of appointments. Later on I’m going to walk to the grocery store. Then after my doctor’s appointment, I’ll continue working on spreading the pile of wood chips in the yard to where I want them for my new future tree bed. I think that will tire me out and I’ll sleep really well again tonight. Now I have to plan when I want to go back to CrossFit for the four personal training sessions and send them email.

CrossFit North

I just got back from my first CrossFit workout session and I can hardly hold my arms up to type. (But that’s good!)
The gym is in an old military warehouse in a huge park that used to be Fort Something-Or-Other. It’s just a big room with a bunch of equipment. Like at the boxing gym, there are no lockers or showers and all the focus is on the intensity and technique of the workout. The CrossFit concept puts a lot of emphasis on strength training through Olympic lifts, starting with the deadlift and the squat. We do very little with weights at boxing, so I don’t even know what most Olympic lifts look like, let alone how to do them. One of the coaches, Nick, spent the whole session with me so I started to learn a little technique for some lifts. (Video and slide shows for all exercises are here.)

Continue reading “CrossFit North”

Jumping Rope Builds Stamina

A friendly young guy at the boxing gym, Mike, told me he did 98 doubles (jumping rope) and is coming after my record of 150. He said he was telling me in order to motivate me, so I jokingly told him to bring it on. I assume there are many younger people at the gym who could easily do more doubles than I can, but they haven’t chosen to count their jumps. Or else they are so good at the more advanced skills that trying to do a lot of doubles doesn’t appeal to them. It seems to be my niche, whether by default or because nobody else is as good at this particular minor part of the workout.
I’ve decided to believe there’s value in it. I can use doubles to increase my aerobic/anaerobic stamina as well as the endurance of my shoulders and the core muscles that hold my body in an efficient position while jumping.
The next night at the gym, after Mike’s challenge, I did some doubles early in the workout when I was still fresh. Even though it was a weeknight, I felt rested and my feet weren’t hurting, so I decided to count doubles and see how high I could go. I got up to 171 before I stopped, my shoulders aching from twirling the rope. I continued jumping normally. It turned out there were 30 seconds or more left in the round before the stop bell rang. I was pretty breathless. The next thing I’ll try to do is continue doing double jumps for the whole three-minute round. But when I’m tired even ten seconds can last forever.
One exercise we do that I’m terrible at is try to hold a plank position, face down and supporting ourselves on elbows and toes. Julia, one of the coaches, likes this one. She’ll tell us to hold it for a minute, but I collapse after counting to only ten or fifteen. That’s usually after we’ve already done a bunch of crunches and I wonder if it would be any easier if I did it fresh. I can easily hold a side plank or a push-up top position much longer. I’m not sure why that forward plank is so much harder.
Next Wednesday night I’m going to take a CrossFit class for the first time. When I emailed the gym to ask if I could come on that night, I said I was a little intimidated. Their return email encouraged me to come but acknowledged that the workout is intimidating. I hope I can get through it without giving out completely.

Too Much Jumping Rope

A couple of weeks ago I broke my jump-rope “doubles” record of 130. Somebody noted this on the gym’s tiny whiteboard. Last night Cappy (the coach) came up to me and said, “Rumor has it that you don’t get tired.” This was at one of those moments when I was punching a bag, feeling like my gloves were made of lead, and reminding myself to accept the fact that getting up early and working all day makes me tired for the workout. But somebody had apparently been joking that the only way I could do that many doubles is if I just don’t get tired.
I told Cappy that when I did 130 doubles in July, I didn’t know what I was doing any differently than I ever had before, but the other day when I did more than that, I realized what I was doing to save energy: relaxing my legs in the air. As I started to get tired at around 70, I knew I wouldn’t make it to 130 again, let alone beyond, unless I changed something. I didn’t want to go any slower or I’d lose the rhythm and step on the rope. If I went faster I’d tire out faster. So I continued to spring up at the same height and speed, but as I left the ground I let my legs dangle. In the mirror I could see the muscle go slack. I had a tiny rest with each jump, lasted longer than I expected to, and exceeded my record by 20.
It helped that it was a Saturday morning when I had only been up for an hour. At the evening classes, I wear myself out jumping rope as quickly as ever, and if I do doubles, I get fatigued and discouraged after 30 or 40 at the most. I know somebody will do way more doubles than I did sometime soon, but I hope it’s some athletic person half my age so that I can still feel like the winner of my age group. Silly, huh! Some of us started imagining new, achievable Olympic sports for the regular person: jumping rope; waterslide pool splashes; riding a bike with no hands.
I’m still having problems with a painful ache in my ankles and lower legs at the gym, less so on Saturday mornings and more so on weeknights. It’s even and steady, and it feels a bit like using cold muscles that need to warm up before performing the demand that’s being put on it. But they still ache after four or more rounds of cardio. Sometimes I have to stop and rest.
I bought some new flat sneakers to wear instead of running shoes, in order to get my heels all the way down to the floor, and tonight was my second time wearing them. I hope my lower legs will stop hurting when I get used to the new flat shoes. It all started when we did more exercises than usual with the elastic band around the ankles, especially jumping rope with it on. But that time coincided with the start of my job in mid-July, when I started being more tired in the evenings.